A healthy body requires seven to nine hours of sleep nightly. However, figuring out how to get that much sleep can be difficult. Generally speaking, a lack of restful sleep will lead to a decline in physical health, which in itself perpetuates a cycle of low-quality and infrequent sleep.
Research shows that 20% of Americans suffer from a sleep disorder. In the last 30 years, the number of adults getting less than six hours of sleep each night has gone up by 31%, and over 95% of all teenagers fail to achieve the recommended amount of sleep.
Busy lifestyles, modern entertainment, technological stimulation, long work hours, and increasing financial burdens all play a role in this systematic sleep loss. One factor that deserves a closer look is the effect of unhealthy eating habits on our ability to sleep well.
When life is busy or overwhelming, it’s tempting to grab fast food on the way home from work or grab a packaged snack. However, there is evidence that suggests this is detrimental to your health and leads to sleep loss. Frequent consumption of foods that are highly processed and low in nutrients lead to deteriorated physical health, lack of concentration, reduced energy, and further temptation to eat unhealthy food. At this point, an unhealthy pattern has begun to affect your daily life and wellness.
How do unhealthy food choices affect your ability to sleep, and how can the resulting sleep loss further drive your junk food cravings?
The Delicate Balance of Energy Production
Eating and sleeping fill two vital roles in fueling your body. The Savvysleeper.org team argues that rating the right things is what fuels us, while sleeping is how we recover, replenish, and repair. The type of energy you generate depends largely on what type of fuel you consume. Some foods, like candy and simple sugars, can spike your energy levels as they rapidly increase your blood glucose levels. These quick bursts of energy can be an easy way of keeping you awake throughout the day if you are experiencing fatigue. If you are suffering from sleep deprivation, it can be a tempting way to stay alert. There are, however, very clear and potentially dangerous downsides to these sugar rushes.
When simple sugars (glucose) build up in your bloodstream, insulin is released to open cells and glucose inside. Most food you eat breaks down into glucose, which is the body’s main energy source. Glucose fuels your muscles, your organs, and your brain, but has to enter cells to be utilized. Otherwise, blood glucose will build, accumulate, and concentrate in your bloodstream.
Glucose is the primary byproduct of ingesting carbohydrates. Some carbs, which contain high levels of fiber and nutrients, are broken down much slower and are evenly released into your blood as glucose. Pure sugar, such as sugar additives, forms quickly turn to glucose, however, and does not provide the desired long-release, compared to more nutrient-dense foods. When you eat a candy bar, for example, your body immediately processes a large amount of concentrated glucose into your bloodstream. This causes your body to react and release a large amount of insulin.
Your cells are then rapidly fueled and your body either uses this for energy or storing it as glycogen. The feeling of taking on this quick mass boost of energy can be what perks you up when you need a jolt. The effect on your blood glucose levels falling afterward from a mass insulin dump response can lead to an energy crash. Eating sugary, high carb meals before bed can interfere with your body’s natural processes for winding down before sleep. The entire process of sugar spiking and dropping can be strenuous on your body and lead to obesity, diabetes, as well as damage to the liver and kidneys.
Studies consistently show that overweight individuals report more frequent instances of difficulty sleeping. Obesity can also lead to breathing problems during sleep, keeping you from healing rest and potentially preventing you from reaching deeper stages of your sleep cycle.
Sleeplessness and Cravings
New research shows a direct connection between a lack of sleep and cravings for unhealthy food options. Studies suggest that even a single night of sleep deprivation can lead to increased cravings for junk food. It is believed this stems from the way food rewards are processed in the brain. Studies have shown higher activity in the amygdala and hypothalamus with lack of quality sleep, the centers of the brain responsible for impulse control and food reward processing.
A healthy body will support your ability to achieve healthy sleep and a healthy body. Everything you do to achieve better health and functionality is a delicate balance. Not only can sleep loss lead to increased junk food cravings, but those unhealthy eating habits can, in turn, keep your body from the rest it needs. If you are experiencing a lack of deep sleep and subsequent food cravings, it is important to find points in which to successfully break the cycle. Resisting fast food, a candy bar, or a bag of chips may be one way of making that change.